Are ecofriendly tours a possibility?
Touring is a very important aspect of performing arts development, but it is also a vector for significant environmental impact, particularly in the case of dance, since choreographic works primarily circulate internationally. To sustain the sector while doing our part to combat climate change, we need to re-examine the way we do things and factor environmental concerns into our choices.
How, then, can we limit the environmental footprint of touring, given the importance of performance tours to the survival of the sector? Let’s consider the various solutions available, both locally and internationally, mainly as regards transportation, accommodation and touring practices.
Project management and sustainable development
First and foremost, a company hoping to organize a more environmentally responsible tour must communicate its environmental values to the entire team and place at least one person in charge of the process. In addition, environmental considerations must be integrated transversally throughout the pre-production process. Without planning, these concerns are likely to be easily pushed aside. Thus, coordination among all stakeholders is essential to the success of any eco-responsible approach. Remember, there is no point in trying to change everything at once. Take one step at a time and keep in mind that ongoing improvement is more important than perfection.
Now, more concretely, what can be done at the planning stage to reduce the footprint of a tour?
Limit transportation and choose a more sustainable option
When assessing the carbon footprint of transportation, consider the footprint not only of the artists (rehearsing or performing), but also of the crew and the audience. The first step is obviously to limit travel whenever possible. For example, videoconferencing is a good option for team meetings that do not require the physical presence of members. Next, when transportation is essential, the goal is to make the best choices based on the following three variables: means of transportation, route optimization and driver behaviour.
To being with, when deciding how to travel, it is important to prioritize active transportation, public transit and carpooling (in that order) for both artists and audiences. If a car must be used, choose an electric or hybrid vehicle and make sure to use a vehicle suited to your needs (is it necessary to use a 6-passenger vehicle for just two people?). Also, whenever possible, air travel should be limited, since its carbon footprint is much greater than that of land travel. Trains remain a good alternative for travelling long distances.
Next, route optimization is a good strategy for reducing the amount of transportation. Thus, it is important to try to avoid travelling to a remote area (or even to another continent) for a single show. This not only reduces the carbon footprint, but also saves money and energy.
Finally, ecodriving techniques can be applied to reduce fuel consumption. These techniques improve energy efficiency and reduce gasoline consumption by 5% to 25% . Try to avoid speeding up and slowing down too quickly, high-traffic routes and idling (when stopping for more than 60 seconds, it is recommended that you turn off the vehicle completely).
At Studio 303, the team has created incentives for all guest teachers and choreographers to choose ground transportation for events. In fact, their internal policy states that only the cost of train transportation is offered to teachers coming from Toronto. They also encourage teachers and artists coming from New York to take the train by offering to give them the difference in cost as compensation for the fact that it takes longer. Thus, they are paid the same as a plane ticket would cost. Also, when teachers come from abroad, the studio does everything possible to avoid a “fly in – fly out” situation, by trying to arrange other opportunities for work in Montréal or elsewhere. These types of initiatives not only reduce carbon footprints, but also normalize decisions based on environmental criteria.
What about international tours? Should they be completely re-examined?
International tours are a major aspect of the dance sector. While it is possible to apply most of the principles outlined in this article (transportation, waste management, etc.), there are times when productions must travel overseas for just one or a few performances. Given the environmental impact of such trips, are these practices sustainable in the long run? Should we begin re-examining the way we present our work?
Clémentine Schindler, a dancer with the Compagnie Marie Chouinard, believes “we definitely need to change the way we present our work internationally, and no longer allow companies to leave for a single performance in Europe, for example.”* Nicolas Patry, another dancer, is also concerned about repetitive travel: “I’ve gone back and forth to China and Asia for a single show. I really felt bad, thinking of the footprint created by taking the plane.”* The director of FÔVE diffusion, Nicolas Filion, remarks that “on the one hand, we have to acknowledge the need to reduce travel, but on the other hand, the sharing of knowledge and culture should be the last sector targeted for reduction, in my opinion: first take aim at overconsumption, which generates huge amounts of unjustifiable transportation, as well as tourism (especially luxury and/or mass tourism).”* Filion has in the past refused to give isolated performances that would require costly travel, have a big impact, and generate little concrete value.
Is this the solution? Refusing isolated performances? Filion qualifies this approach by pointing to the “crying lack of means and support for artists and presenters. The result is that performers are forced to take the easiest paths, and even to sometimes accept bad touring conditions in the hope of gaining visibility. […] Mitigation measures are only practicable when a certain volume of travel is involved; that is, when a company has attained some degree of recognition and can begin to demand certain conditions be met. Otherwise, artists are in survival mode and have to accept what comes their way…”*
For her part, Clémentine Schindler remarks that “most importantly, we should establish ways of developing local audiences; there is a very small public for dance in Québec; I think we should focus on that. Funding for tours should prioritize local performances, and not reward international visibility at all costs.”*
Such reflection is necessary when imagining the future of touring, given the duality of the environmental impacts generated by overseas performances and the need to make arts and culture accessible throughout the world. More support for local tours and more collaboration among the various actors involved could be part of the solution. According to Nicolas Filion “we have to get away from the culture of territorial exclusivity, stop demanding regional or national premiers, share strategies and planning among structures… This would require a big change in culture, but is this what, in my opinion, can potentially have the greatest impact on the environment.”* Food for thought indeed…
First reduce, then offset?
Of course, the main objective is to reduce the number of trips. Once source reduction strategies have been implemented, it is possible to compensate for the greenhouse gases emitted through a carbon offset program. It is important to think about doing so right from the start so this expense can be included in the budget and the necessary information can be gathered (the types of transportation used and the distances travelled by each person). Do not hesitate to refer to the list of tools and guides provided by the Regroupement québécois de la danse for help in calculating and offsetting your emissions.
Reduce the amount of materials used
Travel is often synonymous with fast food and waste. Here are a few quick tips on how to reduce at the source and promote local economies:
- Bring reusable containers, utensils, water bottles and coffee cups (have a way to wash them);
- Bring your lunch if possible;
- Prioritize local restaurants when on the road and in cities.
Promotional materials also generate waste on tours. The most important thing is to keep the production of physical promotional materials (posters, flyers, etc.) to a minimum. When necessary, choose paper made from local and recycled fibres (e.g., FSC-certified paper) and natural inks.
Adjust technical specifications
Although production companies have little control over most of the facilities in performance venues, they can align their technical specifications with their environmental and social values. Here are some items that can be added to any document provided to venues:
- Inform presenters of your eco-responsible approach;
- Indicate that the tour has banned single-use water bottles and other such items;
- Verify the availability of a drinking water dispenser in the dressing rooms;
- Request access to towels instead of paper towelling in the bathrooms;
- Mention your preference for:
- local, organic and unpackaged food and beverages;
- vegetarian and/or vegan options.
- Request access to waste sorting bins (three-way if possible).
When you leave your dressing rooms, feel free to take and consume food that will potentially be thrown away (bring reusable containers). Of course, you can also apply these principles to rehearsal spaces.
Choosing the right accommodation
If you choose to stay in a hotel:
- Refer to the “Green Key” certification program to choose eco-friendly accommodations;
- Optimize the number of people per room;
- Avoid using the single-use items provided (soap, shampoo, etc.);
- Avoid take-out meals (opt for local grocery stores or restaurants);
- Avoid having your room cleaned during your stay (reuse towels).
Otherwise, try to prioritize shared accommodations such as an apartment or a house since this allows for cooking, generates less waste and consumes less energy per person.
Communicate to raise awareness
It is essential to mobilize all the actors involved: dancers, companies, artisans, presenters, networks, etc. Through your actions and choices, you can also raise awareness among stakeholders by describing your approach or by encouraging changes in behaviour. To publicly commit to the process, you can join the “Artist Citizens on Tour” movement, an initiative aimed at promoting eco-friendly practices in the performing arts.
By Le Regroupement québécois de la danse
 J. Van Mierlo, G. Maggetto, E. Van De Burgwal, and R. Gense, “Driving style and traffic measures – Influence on vehicle emissions and fuel consumption,” Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D: Journal of Automobile Engineering, vol. 218, No. 1, pp. 43–50, 2004.